The first export customer for the Hornet was Canada. In March of 1977, the Canadian government authorized the Department of National Defense to start looking for a New Fighter Aircraft (NFA) to replace the CF-101 Voodoo, the CF-116 Freedom Fighter, and the CF-104 Starfighter with the Canadian Forces.
Canadian officers looked at several different fighter designs, but very rapidly the primary competitors for the Canadian order narrowed down to the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. Northrop attempted to push its F-18L land-based Hornet derivative, but this was ruled out on technical legal grounds, although Canadian pilots were very enthusiastic about the YF-17 when they evaluated it while it was serving as the F-18L demonstrator.
On April 10, 1980, Canada announced that the F/A-18 Hornet had been selected as the winner of the contest. The initial order was for 113 single-seaters and 24 two seaters, with options being taken for 20 more. Later, another 11 single-seaters were ordered.
The Canadian F/A-18 is essentially identical to the US Navy version, but has an Instrument Landing System (ILS) in place of the Automatic Carrier Landing System (ACLS). In addition, a 600,000-candlepower spotlight is fitted on the port side of the forward fuselage to enable night identification of other aircraft. It has provision for LAU-5003 rocket pods (containing 19 Bristol Aerospace CRV-7 2.75-inch rockets) and BL-755 cluster bombs.
The aircraft is designated CF-188 (single seat) and CF-188B (two seat) in Canadian Armed Forces service. The two-seater was initially designated CF-188D, the D standing for "Dual", following previous Canadian practice. However, this was eventually changed to CF-188B, lest the aircraft be confused with the D model of the F/A-18. The name of the aircraft is CF-18 (single-seat) and CF-18B (two-seat) in Canadian service. The name Hornet is deliberately not used in Canadian service, since the French translation of "Hornet" is "Frelon", which has already been assigned to a French-built Aerospatiale helicopter.
The first production CF-18 aircraft for Canada took off on its first flight at St Louis on July 29, 1982, and was delivered on October 27. All CF-18s were built by McDonnell in production blocks 9 to 23, the last of 98 examples being delivered in September of 1988. They were assigned Canadian military serials 188701 through 188798. The 40 two-seat CF-18Bs were built in Blocks 8 to 25, and were assigned Canadian military serials 188901 through 188940.
Canada had planned to order 11 of the aircraft on which it had options, but allowed its option to lapse on April 1, 1985. At the same time, the original contract was modified to 98 single seaters and 40 two-seaters, for a total of 138.
The first Canadian Armed Forces unit to be equipped with the CF-18 was the No 410 "Cougar" Operational Training Squadron based at Cold Lake, Alberta, this unit receiving its first planes on October 30, 1982. The first year of service was spent training instructors on the new aircraft in preparation for the conversion of other squadrons to the type.
The CF-18 has served with No 416 "Lynx" and No 441 "Silver Fox" Tactical Fighter Squadrons based at Cold Lake, Alberta, with No 425 "Alouettes" and No 433 "Porcupine" Tactical Fighter Squadrons based at Bagotville, Quebec, and with No 409 "Nighthawk", No 421 "Red Indian", and No 439 "Tiger" Tactical Fighter Squadrons stationed at Baden-Sollingen in Germany.
The CF-18s of No 409 Squadron were transferred from Baden-Sollingen to Qatar on October 7, 1990 during the buildup of Coalition forces for Desert Storm. 20 aircraft were involved. Personnel from No 439 Squadron took over in mid-December. The primary mission of the CF-18s was to protect Canadian Forces warships against Iraqi Mirage F1EQs carrying AM 39 Exocet antiship missiles. No Canadian Forces CF-18s were lost during the Gulf War.
441 Squadron deployed to Aviano, Italy in March of 1999 to take part in the NATO campaign against Serbian forces in Kosovo.
Following its participation in Desert Storm, No 409 Tactical Fighter Squadron was disbanded in 1991, turning over some of its aircraft to Nos 421 and 439 Squadrons. No 421 Squadron disbanded in June of 1992, and No 439 stood down in December of 1992. Following the end of the Cold War, Baden-Sollingen closed down in 1994, and all the Hornets based there were returned to Canada.
Once the European- based aircraft had returned home, the CF-18 force was now down from seven to four active duty squadrons--Nos 416, 441, 425, and 433 Squadrons--plus the No 410 training squadron at Cold Lake. Two of these squadrons will be on notice for a quick return to Europe if an emergency breaks out, and the other two will be assigned to the support of maritime operations. The primary role of all four squadrons, however, will be the aerial defense of Canada.
Following the disestablishment of the European-based CF-18 squadrons, some of their planes were redistributed to the surviving four Canadian-based squadrons, whereas others were placed in storage. By the end of 1994, out of the 125 CF-18s originally in the Canadian inventory, only about 72 remained in operational squadrons, with the remainder serving with the training unit at Cold Lake or else being placed in storage.
In 1995, The Canadian Forces Air Command announced that a further 12 CF-188 s would be withdrawn from active service and placed into ready reserve storage. This now leaves only 60 of the CF-18 fighters in four operational squadrons (433 and 425 at Bagotville, Quebec and 416 and 441 at Cold Lake, Alberta), each with 15 rather than 18 CF-18s. Some 23 additional CF-18s serve with No 410 Squadron at Cold Lake, with another 23 being either in storage or under repair.
The reduced utilization should extend the lifetime of the CF-18 until 2014. In the meantime, an upgrade program was planned which will probably include APG-65 radar improvements, modification of the ALR-67 radar warning receiver, and expanded capability for the mission computer and stores management system. The Loral AN/AAS-38B NITE Hawk pod has been acquired for precision guidance munitions delivery.
In July of 2010 the Canadian government announced plans to replace the CF-188s with 65 F-35 Lightning IIs.
188701 McDonnell Douglas Block 9 CF-18A 188702/188706 McDonnell Douglas Block 10 CF-18A 188702 on display at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada. 188704 w/o Jan 11, 1989 188707/188713 McDonnell Douglas Block 11 CF-18A 188714/188720 McDonnell Douglas Block 12 CF-18A 188714 w/o July 5, 1995. 188721/188727 McDonnell Douglas Block 13 CF-18A 188728/188734 McDonnell Douglas Block 14 CF-18A 188735/188740 McDonnell Douglas Block 15 CF-18A 188741/188747 McDonnell Douglas Block 16 CF-18A 188748/188754 McDonnell Douglas Block 17 CF-18A 188755/188761 McDonnell Douglas Block 18 CF-18A 188762/188768 McDonnell Douglas Block 19 CF-18A 188769/188774 McDonnell Douglas Block 20 CF-18A 188775/188782 McDonnell Douglas Block 21 CF-18A 188783/188790 McDonnell Douglas Block 22 CF-18A 188791/188798 McDonnell Douglas Block 23 CF-18A
188901/188904 McDonnell Douglas Block 8 CF-18B 188901 on display at Canada National Aviation Museum, Ottawa, Canada 188905/188909 McDonnell Douglas Block 9 CF-18B 188910/188912 McDonnell Douglas Block 10 CF-18B 188913/188914 McDonnell Douglas Block 12 CF-18B 188915 McDonnell Douglas Block 13 CF-18B 188916 McDonnell Douglas Block 14 CF-18B 188917/188918 McDonnell Douglas Block 15 CF-18B 188919 McDonnell Douglas Block 16 CF-18B 188920/188921 McDonnell Douglas Block 17 CF-18B 188922 McDonnell Douglas Block 18 CF-18B 188923 McDonnell Douglas Block 19 CF-18B 188924/188925 McDonnell Douglas Block 20 CF-18B 188926/188934 McDonnell Douglas Block 24 CF-18B 188935/188940 McDonnell Douglas Block 25 CF-18B